So my friend Nadia Bolz-Weber and I don’t have a lot in common—at least not on the surface.
Nadia's tall, buff, and typically decked out in a black tank top to show off her tattoos. I’m short, plump, and given to flowey, floral peasant skirts and colorful beaded jewelry. Nadia cusses like a truck driver and tells it like it is. I’ve got a sweet Southern accent and can charm my way through uncomfortable situations just like my mama taught me. Though we both grew up in conservative church cultures, Nadia spent much of her young adulthood battling addictions while I kept working the good-girl schtick, even when it wasn’t working for me, even when it became shallow and untrue. We’re both in different types of recoveries, you might say.
And yet somehow we keep running into each other and making sense with one another as we travel the speaking circuit. I think it’s got something to do with the way the Kingdom draws unlikely people together in our shared brokenness and hope, our shared need for grace.
If there was one word to describe Nadia’s new book, Pastrix, it’s grace….though let me assure you, she’s got some saltier ones sprinkled throughout it. (The first words of the memoir are, “’Shit,’ I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to be late to New Testament class.’” So if you have a problem with that type of language, you probably won’t like the book.)
Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint is an irreverent, funny, and beautifully-written memoir that strips this faith thing down to its bare bones. Weaving the story of Mary Magdalene through her own, Nadia reclaims the term “pastrix” (used derisively by some Christians who refuse to recognize female pastors) to highlight the absurdity and goodness of a God who would choose someone like her to be a “pastor to her people”— alcoholics, depressives, misfits, and cynics. It’s a compelling page-turner that takes the reader from the wobbly chairs of Alcoholics Anonymous to a smoky downtown comedy club to the pews of the Lutheran Church where Nadia pastors called House for All Sinners and Saints.
But here’s the thing: In this book, Nadia isn’t just a pastor to the textbook down-and-outs; she is a pastor to people like me, people whose struggles may not be the easy-to-identify homelessness or alcoholism, but are instead the sneaky ones like pride, cynicism, discouragement, fear, and perfectionism. At a time when I was dealing with some serious burnout with the Church, when I was angry about all the judgment and division I’ve come to expect from it, Pastrix arrived and dropped a badly-needed Truth bomb right in the middle of all my crap.
This book reminded me of why I am a Christian. It stripped everything down to its most essential, its most hopeful. It reminded me of the goodness and grace of God in ways I struggle to articulate here. I cried through entire paragraphs, overwhelmed with both conviction and relief.
Who would have thought a foul-mouthed, tattooed Lutheran preacher could have such an effect on a sweet, Southern evangelical?
But I think that’s what I like best about this book. It’s not really about Nadia. Where she could have easily relied on her larger-than-life personality to carry the story, Nadia instead gets out of the way…at just the right moments. She gets out of the way and lets God do God's thing. She leaves you marveling at the beauty and absurdity of grace.
Grace for Rick, the homeless, pathological liar who attends Nadia’s church. Grace for the faithful Lutheran pastor who mentored Nadia and who, before the policy changed, was once removed from the official clergy roster of the ELCA because he was gay. Grace for the LGBT people in Nadia’s community and grace for the people who would oppose their presence there. Grace for her conservative parents who upon learning that she planned to enter full-time ministry pulled out the family Bible and pointed not to 1 Timothy 2:12 but to Esther 4:14. Grace for herself when she got mad at her congregation for not doing things her way. Grace for one of her most relentless critics—a man who calls himself “Pirate Christian”—to whom she declared, “Chris, I have two things to say to you. One, you are a beautiful child of God. Two, I think that maybe you and I are desperate enough to hear the Gospel that we can even hear it from one another.”
As Nadia puts it:
“God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word. My selfishness is not the end-all…instead, it’s that God makes beautiful things out of even my own shit. Grace isn’t about God creating humans as flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us peace—like saying, ‘Oh, it’s OK, I’ll be a good guy and forgive you.’ It’s God saying, ‘I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.” (51)
I cannot recommend this book enough. If it has even close to the same effect on you as it had on me, it will restore your faith in God, your hope for the Church, and your love for yourself and your neighbor. It will remind you that you don’t have to be cynical on the one hand or naïve on the other to gather under the Big Tent of grace. You just have to be hungry, thirsty, ready.
Be sure to pick up a copy of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. And if you’ve never “met” Nadia, this video is a nice introduction:
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